The Traumas of Sister Krissie

So I've been hurting.  A lot.  First the doctors just said it was the result of my depression, and I bought that.  After all, massive depression grabs you by the -- what?  I don't have balls, and I don't have ovaries any more.  Anyway, it grabs you someplace essential and life-defining and twists and squeezes, and pain and weeping ensue.

But it turns out I'm overdue for my hundred thousand mile tune-up.  My knees have gotten so bad I can barely walk, I have a rotator cuff screw up resulting bursitis, tendonitis, frozen shoulder, incredible weakness in the right hand (I can't use my rotatory cutter for quilting and I need one more strip to finish Alex's quilt).

So I bit the bullet and went to Physical Therapy, and I've got exercises to do three times a day (we'll aim for two and be lucky for one).  No, actually I've been so aching that I was ready to commit to all that physical work -- anything to be able to move and walk a bit more.  And I don't want to end up like my sister, who basically ate herself to death.

Armed with inspiration, I went on to my dentist.  Abcess, (hmm, they don't like the spelling of that), That nasty dental thing that's slipped my mind but everyone compares misery to.  For $1200 that I don't have.  Plus more meds because it's infected.

This is very discouraging to a recovering Depressive.  Not to mention the fact that I have so much writing to do each day that I will explode and not get anything done, that my eyes are wonky and need a new prescription, that the carpal tunnel in my left hand is so bad that my fingers are already tingling and I'll probably need the surgery I've avoided so long.  Then there's the weird tremor that just showed up.

I tend to blame everything on my weight -- that it's punishment from the grumpy Old Testament God who went around smiting things because I'm fat.  But weight has nothing to do with the carpal tunnel, or the abcess, or even the rotator cuff.  And if you're going to live a long time (I haven't yet, but I'm staring at it) things are bound to need a tune-up.

But damn, I feel sorry for myself.

I did, however, avoid the homemade desserts at the diner I had lunch in, so that's 20 days without sweets. I realize I slipped when I gave a talk at the South Burlington Library when they served chocolates and tea.  I was relatively safe because I don't like chocolate (horrors!) but do like white chocolate.  There were three white chocolates, and I scarfed down two of them, but I blame adrenaline and don't consider them a fall from grace.  Particularly since the third is in my pocket and I've been ignoring it.

I feel a little bit like Job, though of course I know things could be much much worse.  I'm just  nibbled to death by ducks.  Or as my grandmother used to say (in Danish) it's a slow death to be trampled to death by geese.

Guess you gotta avoid those water-fowl.  I wonder what loons do to you?

I'll get the comment section working or die trying.  Or actually Mollie will.  In the meantime, I guess I gotta do my exercises. 

Copy Editors

I'm having the strangest time going through my older books, getting them ready for re-issues.  The first batch went out without revision because we were in some kind of rush, but I've discovered there's nothing better than fixing old stuff and making it shiny and new again.

One of the most surprising things I've noticed is how lax the copy editing was, and back in the day we used to bitch like crazy about the copy editors, feeling they were incredibly intrusive and calling them (whispering) copy idiots.  I don't know if we scared them off, Horrible Raging Romance Writers that we were, or whether they just had so much contempt for us that they didn't think it mattered.

My favorite copy-edit comments were in TANGLED LIES. First off, I said my hero was wearing Ralph Lauren turquoise jockey shorts.  Back then we called briefs by the generic jockey shorts, even though those were actually a trade name.  My copy editor, in a tone of voice that somehow managed to sound snooty even though it was a written comment, said that Bill Blass designed for Jockey, not Lauren. Ooooh-kay.  How do you design jockey shorts?  But I digress.

Later in the mss., when the hero and heroine finally make love, the hero mutters "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."  The copy editor said "is this is a quote from somewhere?"

How could a copy editor know who designs underwear and yet not know the first words spoken on the moon?  A friend of mine, the late Trish Jensen, had a copy editor turn a little boy into a raccoon (pretty good trick if he could do it in real life), and another demanded that the writer Danielle Harmon have her hero have a bottle of black ink fall on his head because they'd accidentally done the cover with a dark-haired hero rather than a blonde one.

Nowadays I love copy editors.  I even dedicated one of my recent books to one.  I go through the comments and cringe at the stupid mistakes I've made, the ridiculous goofs.  In general I'm not too hard on myself -- with 90,000 to 100,000 words it only makes sense that a handful of them have to be wrong.  But when it's really dumb all I can do is thank God someone caught it.

With my older books they seemed to ignore obvious stuff, like my very bad habit of too many sentence fragments (a few are okay, but I went overboard), or my tendency to end each chapter with a sentence beginning with "and."  As for words re-used in a paragraph -- fuggedaboudit!  (Is that the way to spell that?).  I could say "drive" five times in one paragraph and no one noticed.

My one indie book, ON THIN ICE, didn't need an editor.  I knew what I was doing, after all these years I know story structure, etc., and I'd been desperate to write that book for years.  In fact, it's the only book I wrote without a contract in more than 35 years.  I went over it and over it for typos, and then I had my mother (admittedly, she was 95, but sharp as a tack and she'd been an editor in her earlier years) and my god-daughter, who was taking a course in copy-editing, go over the mss.  Between the three of us we should have gotten it right.

And then I listened to the divine Xe Sands read it and wanted to weep.  Mind you, Xe is so good that she made the repeated words practically disappear, but I was hyper-sensitive.  I adored that book, and thank God Xe was brilliant enough at what she does to make it sound like I'd never re-used a word too often, but I still cringed every now and then.

That's one problem with indie publishing.  I think a good critique group could probably stand in for an editor, but no one can stand in for a good copy editor.  They're worth their weight in gold.

Except for back in the 80s and 90s, when they were smoking too much crack or simply didn't like romances.

I still get a little snappish, mentally, with some questions from copyeditors, but in general I couldn't live without them.  Now my only problem is to find a good one for my next indie book, Brandon and Emma's story.

Which goes to show the writing life is always an uneasy alliance between the left brain and right brain people, between art and commerce.  As for me, I think there's a place for all of them.  Someone once said publishing isn't a business, it's a casino.  Truer words were never spoken, but you need all the odds on your side to begin with, and having the right copy editor is better than a rabbit's foot any day.

The big d (DEPRESSION, NOT DALLAS)

Good morning, children.  Je suis Charlie.  No, I'm not going to talk about France -- so many people have been more eloquent than I could be.  I just felt it necessary to say something.

Got a helluva week ahead of me.  Dentist appointment, speech in the big city, shrink appointment, writing, cleaning, sewing.  I think I'll just go back to bed.

No, I can't.  Let me tell you about my depression.  People don't like to talk about depression, about any form of emotional and mental illness.  

I have a history of depression.  I come from two families with strong depressive histories -- my mother's family has depression, my mother was hospitalized a number of times and had shock treatments, my grandfather killed himself.  On my father's side there's a long history of bipolar illness, (my great-grandfather, my great-uncle, my uncle, my aunt, my father, my brother). My father was bipolar who self-medicated with alcohol and drugs, and he took turns with my mother, having meltdowns and going into hospitals. Fortunately I don't have bipolar illness (I don't get manic), but I sure the hell am depressive, and have been all my life, particularly in my adolescent and teen years, when I was suicidal.

I had an epiphany when I was 18 (which I'll tell you about some other time) and have never felt suicidal again.  But depressions come and go, often in the spring, but they can hit at any time.  In the last fifteen years I've had three major depressions, but sooner or later it gets better.  That's what people have to remember.  It gets better, no matter how bad it seems.

This one crept up on me slowly - just a lot of stressful days, working too hard.  It was like being in a pot of cold water -- you don't notice it's slowly coming to a boil.  I just kept fighting it.  In fact, what probably tipped me over was when I told my doctor I was fighting off a clinical depression and the doctor told me I was clinically depressed.  

Then my affect began to fade like the Cheshire Cat, except it wasn't my smile that was left.  Along came my doctor, who added another pill to my previously excellent cocktail, which was fine until I found that with expensive insurance they cost me $300 a month.  No.

But I'm back, and I'm hoping I had enough of the million-dollar drug to keep me moving upward, and I'll keep going.  I have a therapist for the practical things (I'll always need a therapist) and a psychiatrist to check the meds.  It's life, and I take great joy in it most of the time.  There are simply the down times.

When things are bad there's only one thing that makes me feel better, and it's the same thing that got me through my hellacious childhood.  Stories.  Fantasy, romance, all that good stuff, but not just in books, though curling up with a favorite book is always therapeutic.  

But making up my own stories before I went to sleep, when I was stuck in a difficult situation (like school) I could just float off into my own mind.

I was driving home from visiting Crusie, weeping at the hopelessness of it all, and then I remembered the story I was writing.  The stories I wanted, needed to write.  It wasn't just a glimmer of hope, it was a shaft of light to reach for.

I'm coming out of it.  I've got so many things I want to write I'll never run out things to do, things to keep me sane.  And if depression comes again, and it's likely to, I just need to remind myself that there are always stories.  Always hope, at least for me.

The depression and darkness informs my work, making it stronger, giving it depth.  It doesn't mean I can't write a comic romp, but it does mean I don't shy away from the darkest of characters.  As long as they're hot and give great sex and I can redeem them in the end, of course.

Glenn Close is making the tv rounds with her bipolar sister, talking about how people shouldn't hide from mental illness.  It's an important message, and writers have a stronger tendency toward depression.  But we'll talk more about that the next time.

In the meantime, claim your depression.  There's no shame in it - it's simply part of life.  And in a whole lot of cases, part of Art as well.

More later. 

Friday

So yesterday I got up and looked at the thermometer.  -27.6 (or -26.7 : there's not a whole lot of difference).  But I had to see my rheumatologist, so I layered and layered and it was only -14 when I went out to the car, an improvement if it weren't for the damned wind.  And off I went to the big city.

First I should tell you that I wrote on Wednesday.  And yesterday the ideas were flowing (driving and swimming are the two best ways for me to brainstorm).  First I went to the outlets to buy clothes for my grandchildren (couldn't get there before Christmas and it's so much fun to shop for baby girls and little boys).  I then took a nasty fall outside Oshkosh, landing on my knees on the cement and jarring myself so badly my neck was killing me.  Lots of nice people wanted to help but I managed to crawl over to the side of the building and drag myself up before they could get there.  Went and did useful things like buy more of the quilt fabric I ran out of and the lace trim (ditto), again for babies.  Then found out from my doctor that it's not just rotator cuff -- my shoulder is completely frozen.  She kept wincing.  Apparently it's bad.

I seem to have a high pain threshold.  On Dr. Oz people said they had come out with a pain level of 7 (and the treatments brought it down to 5 or 4).  I can't walk when it's seven.  I've never had 10, not even with the hysterectomy.  I consider ten screaming in pain.  Right now I'm a solid 5 going on 6, and I wouldn't go out unless tempted.  But now I need PT, which I'll tie in with swimming, and somehow figure out how to add all that other crap.  Sigh.

So with the bad new I had the first drug screen of my life (part of the new laws concerning painkillers -- maybe that's why I'm only at a 5 or 6) which was exciting.  It'll probably show I have a bladder infection.  It'll certainly show that I take fewer pain meds than I'm prescribed -- they make me sleepy.  I gotta really be hurting to take them during the day.

And I remembered that I have to give a talk on Wednesday back in the big city.  It was too cold to load the car with stuff for Goodwill so I'll do that next week, and even end up getting money for the Disney fund (I love WDW, particularly now that I've got babies).

Somehow I'm going to manage to tie this all together, all these things I have to do as well as somehow talk my elder child through getting her first real job and moving to the midwest (she has a girlfriend in Madison, WI, which seems like an excellent town anyway).

Ah, the life of a writer.  Friends and I go through a ritual every year where we pick a word to define what we want to be, what we want to accomplish in the new year.  Last year my word was something like serenity, which relatively speaking I got (I could have been a lot more miserable, even if I'm just coming out of a major depression).

But this year my word is Phoenix.  Triumphant, rising from the ashes, trumpeting (do Phoenices trumpet?  Are more than one phoenix phoenices or phoenixes?  The world is full of interesting questions).  

The worst part of all this is that it means I can't make long drives while the arm is so bad, so no Crusie break for a little while, and I really need it.  However, it's a wee bit cold in her house and cold makes all the myriad owies that plague me worse.  So she'll get better heat and I'll get better shoulder and then I'm off.

Think of your own word for the year, and share it if you feel like it or write it down and keep it quietly to yourself.  It's like a mini-mantra.  

Speaking of which, time to write.

IDID IT!

Yes, that was meant to be shouted from the rooftops.  I started the new book, and I wanted to kick myself.  What was my big problem?  I wrote a page and a half, did some laundry and filled the wood stove, then came back and wrote another two and a half.  So 1,250 words or so first time out of the gate, and the story just started flowing.  I should have had faith and trusted.  The stories just come, they always have, and writer's block isn't an issue.  It's more a readiness block.  

And oh my. it took off right away.  Hero's nursing a hangover, drinking, and his nemesis, our heroine, shows up at the door of his super spy compound in New Orleans with an innocent waif.  And suddenly she had four brothers, all rats, and she hates her name (I don't even know what her name is -- she goes by Ms. B.J. Gauthier, Esquire (yes, she's a pro bono lawyer from a corrupt N.O. political family).

Of course, now I can talk myself into a state of anxiety over what's going to happen today when he opens the door, or I can figure out a way to release that tension and just do it.  I brainstormed with my therapist on Monday, and together we came up with some good ideas.

Ritual.  I lit a candle and some incense, but she also suggested I come up with a mantra.  I figure that or a small meditation before I jump in.  Just something to shake off the demons.  In fact, I did play Florence and the Machine singing "Shake it Off" (it's hard to dance with the devil on your back so shake it off).  Maybe that's part of my ritual.

And as for the great feeling better attempt, I avoided sweets yesterday, even though I could have easily justified them, so no sweets in the new year.  I've been off Diet Sodas for more than 7 months now, which is huge.  I need to start swimming again, but since we might have wind chills of minus 50 tonight I think I'll wait till next week.  Though I could play one of my exercise videos, and yet somehow I never do.

I'll solve one problem at a time.  Today I write and clean the bedroom with the help of my eldest spawn of Satan (or so she likes to call herself).  Tomorrow I see the doctor about my knees, my wrists, and my shoulder.  Friday I write again and clean a bit more.

Bit by bit it'll get done.  When I was in the depths of depression I lost a lot of weight, and when I started feeling better I turned to sugar.  Now the sugar is gone, the bread is whole wheat (no bread flour sneaking in there) and veggies abound.

To quote the divine Tina Turner, "oh, darling, I know it's gonna work out fine." (Though she was telling that asshole Ike that).  I don't have ... well, I do have assholes in my life, but it's still gonna work out fine, just like it has for Tina.  And maybe someday I'll be able to dance in high heels.